Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Fright Night Delight

Those of you have been with me a while know of my love of Halloween and the amazing skill that goes into taking our event budget of £0.00 and turning it into a fabulously scary production.

We still have last year's monsters ready to go back into position, but we have some new props too. I have been busy making a jolly clown for the children. Everybody loves clowns, right?

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Doris Ponders Going Legit


I can only apologise for my shameful neglect of this lovely little blog recently. Things have been happening. Work things, family things.

As some of you will recall, I got into a spot of bother earlier this year when an article I wrote about a forgetful coach party generated a complaint letter to Regional Office. Not wanting to give anyone any more sticks to hit me with I laid low for a while. Now I am pondering where to go from here.

My anonymity has always been as effective a disguise as Clark Kent's glasses or Undercover Elephant's eye mask. Those of you who wanted to know badly enough where I am based were able to trace me with a minimal amount of googling.

What I'd really like is to go legit. To post openly about where I am, what we are doing, the challenges we face and - ideally - get input and feedback from everyone as to what you think we ought to be doing, what you would like to see. It would take away the fear of discovery and - who knows? - maybe even become an effective marketing tool.

So, I am thinking of asking the Powers That Be whether they will bestow their blessings upon a blog I just happen to be thinking of writing.

E-engagement. That's the buzzword I shall be hanging it on.

What do you think?

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

Animal Corner

The Boss wanted to put on an Animal Corner as part of our Country Fair.

"I've got this cockerel," said McColleague.

"Great, bring it!"

"It's not very big," she confided as the date grew nearer. "It's only a bantam. I'm worried that if Animal Corner is relying on it as the main attraction it could be disappointing."

"Trust me, any disappointment in this event won't be solely down to your cockerel."

Things weren't looking promising at this stage. Animal Corner currently consisted of McColleague's cockerel, some ducks, a few rabbits and a couple of sheep. The rest of the Fair was also remaining at the distinctly low key stage, with most of the exhibitors we wanted dropping out and leaving us with a couple of vintage tractors to display, a gazebo from the Local History Society and a trestle table with some pots of jam on it.

McColleague and I marked out the exhibition area with our finest quality orange baling twine and some pointy sticks. "It's not exactly the Three Counties Show, is it?"

"It'll be fine."

And, against all expectations, it was fine.

The day of the event dawned sunny and dry and the public turned up in their droves to experience the free and simple rustic charms of the Country Fair we had so kindly laid on for them.

Who could resist the lure of the balloons on sticks, an irresistible gateway to Countryside pleasures?

As for McColleague's cockerel, it never did make an appearance in Animal Corner.

"I couldn't catch the cockerel this morning," she confessed.

I was unable to mask my disappointment. "You've let the team down, you've let the event down, and - most importantly of all -"

" - I've let myself down. I know. I brought three chickens and some ducks instead."

"Well, that's all right then."

"That's quite a display," I nodded approvingly at the chicken wire and timber construction, resplendent with Union Jacks. "The flags just set it off nicely. And the child's paddling pool is a nice touch."

From Animal Corner we could see all the rest of the Fair. The wardens had an enclosure of their own, in which they showcased their talents. I must say that I have often wanted to know more and it is good to know that the wardens are open to questions and won't savage my ankles.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

A Nice Little Retirement Job

It had been a long day.

The school holidays mean that a sunny day is often a long day. It is wonderful having so many visitors and it is lovely to see happy families picnicking by the moat and enjoying the walks. It really is. No, it is. Really.

It's just that lots of children in the house means lots of extra care has to be taken to ensure that they are entertained and that the precious things are unmolested. The two states do not naturally exist together. On the typical family intensive day I will find the pot pourri liberally sprinkled around the place, rubbish in the leather fire buckets, stickers on the furniture, devastation in the Family Room, and situations you really don't want to know about in the lavatories.

It was at the end of just such a demanding day that a final family came through the doors a couple of minutes past closing time. They knew they were a little late, but could they have a look round? "Of course," I replied. "Do come in".

I could hear the sound of the early 20th century typewriter in the study having its keys thumped enthusiastically from downstairs. I climbed the stairs and found three children clustered around the - admittedly tempting - typewriter and explained that it was very old and by bashing all the keys at once it would simply jam and break. At this point their parents, who had been in the adjacent room, came through and I engaged them in conversation too.

At one point the fact emerged that the part of the house not open to the public was still lived in, and from there it was a short step to being identified as the fortune favoured person in residence.

The usual "Oh, you're so lucky," conversation ensued, but then the woman asked me "how do you get a job like that?"

I sketched in the sort of background needed.

"The thing is," she said, "my husband will be retiring in a few years and I can just see us in a place like this, pottering about."

Pottering about? Pottering? It's not their fault, I know. They obviously think that standing in the house, talking, is the job in its entirety. I debated telling them about the fact you can't leave the house without arranging cover, the three nights in a row I'd been awoken by the alarms sounding at 4am due to an errant bat, the working every weekend and Bank Holiday, the lack of privacy, the fact that if someone does crap all over the toilet seat then it's down to you to clean it up, and so on, but then thought better of it and simply explained how these jobs are advertised in the local press and can be searched for online, on our website.

They'll find out.

Thursday, August 07, 2008

Successful Event Planning, the Stately Moans Way

When we first had the idea to hold a Fairy Tale Trail it seemed relatively simple. We'd held one before, after all. Apart from the trail itself, and our cunningly concealed creations, we only had to prepare an area for the activities we had promised - wand making, mask making, that sort of thing. A couple of tables in a marquee should do the trick.

Lovely Warden and my Boss duly arrived a couple of days before the event and put up the marquee. They hammered in the tent pegs and tethered it well. "Safe as houses," they declared.

"It looks a bit bare inside," McColleague mused, once it was up .

"We could get some material to create swags," I said, over-confidently, as if I knew about this sort of thing. "And hang up some fairy lights. It'll be a Magical Wonderland!"

So, we went into town and bought acres of pink material and returned, triumphant, ready to work our creative magic.

We were intercepted on our way to the office by a colleague. "Go and look at the moat!" she cried.

The problem was immediately apparent. My Magical Wonderland had developed a definite aquatic theme. Putting the swags up now was going to be a challenge.

I hastened to reassure bemused visitors and volunteers alike that we did not actually erect the marquee in the moat and that it must have blown in. After the tenth repetition I got bored with that and started telling people it was for a duck wedding instead.

Eventually help arrived, in the shape of our gardener, Lovely Warden and assorted other estate staff. They donned waders and climbed into the moat. Progress was not simple, due to the knee high mud and dense vegetation. I gamely assisted by taking photographs and calling out helpful comments like "Careful now!" and "I think it's going to tip over."

It tipped over. It was bit like a warmer, muddier version of Titanic.

"It's not going well, is it?" said McColleague, somewhat redundantly.

"Never let go!" I shouted, but it was too late. Several of the leg poles sank to the bottom of the moat, never to be recovered. That's really going to confuse the Time Teams of the future.

At last the bulk of the marquee was dragged out of the moat and onto dry land. Several key elements were broken, bent or entirely missing. The plastic covering was covered in foul smelling mud and pondweed.

"I don't think I'm going to bother with a marquee for Fairy Day," I decided. "Let's put a couple of tables in one of the buildings in the courtyard instead."

It was at this point we discovered that every single trestle table we owned had been taken away to one of the tenant farms, where they were hosting a wedding party. And that the building in question was full of a disassembled shed, some rusty metalwork and a rickety old piano.

If it wasn't for all the hot wardens-in-waders action the day could have been a tad on the frustrating side.

Wednesday, August 06, 2008

The Return of the Doris

It has been a stressful time lately, hence my quietness online.

There have been work issues ranging from staffing problems to grievance hearings, all of which have required my time and attention.

Then my father became ill and had to go into hospital and all my work related dramas paled into insignificance.

Anyhow, the good news is that while none of these issues are entirely resolved they are better than they were. I have decided to re-open the blog and continue posting on such vital subjects as biscuit consumption, suicidal sheep and batty behaviour.

Stay tuned for comedy marquee japes aplenty!

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Directory Enquiries

The phone rings.

"Good morning. Could you tell me, are you open today?"

"Yes we are. The house opens at 12 noon and last admission is at 4.30."

"Oh, thank you. You really should have a word with your organisation, there's nothing about your place in the book. "

"I'm sure we are in the handbook."

"Well I couldn't find you."

"Hang on, I'm just checking in my copy. Yes, here we are."


"In the section for the Midlands. Page 244."

"No, you're not there."

"Page 244? Are you on page 244?"

"It's Hadrian's Wall on page 244."

"Which book are you looking in? It is the 2008 version isn't it?"

"Yes! 2008/2009 English Heritage!"

"Ah. We're not English Heritage."


Monday, June 16, 2008


It has been a bumpy ride lately.

The weekend was full of drama and tears and resignations.

The drama and resignations were not mine, thankfully, but some of the tears were. It was heavy going.

We did have some lighter moments, though.

McColleague and I were trying to look up an item online, part of a crossbow. It is called a Goat's Foot lever and I typed the relevant words into Google.

"I'm just going to get pictures of actual goats feet now, aren't I?"

Lovely Warden spoke up from his corner of the office. "You don't want to know what I got when I searched for helmet sanitiser."

Sunday, June 01, 2008

Undercover Doris


I know, I have been quiet of late.

And now I have taken the blog to invite only! "What's going on?" I hear you - yes, you - wail.

Well, I write a monthly article for our local magazine. Often there is a bit of an overlap with what I write about on Stately Moans and what goes into print. Especially if a tight deadline is looming.

Some of you may remember a post I wrote a while back about a coach party. I tidied it up a little, made it user-friendly (I thought) and inoffensive and thought it would provide an amusing insight into managing a group of people who can't make up their minds what they want.

So I was somewhat dismayed to find an email from my Boss to say that he'd had a call from our Regional Office to say that a complaint about my article had been received and would I write no more until further notice. I hasten to add, it is just one letter, but rather than write to me, or the editor of the magazine, the complainant has chosen to go higher up the chain to inform the good people at Regional Office that I have "no empathy" for my visitors and that I should publicly apologise.

I have therefore decided to lay low until this situation is resolved. I have no reason to think anyone would search online to see if other amusing/offensive (depending on your point of view) articles on coach parties have been written, but decided to err on the side of caution until I am satisfied that all my posts on Stately Moans are safe to air.

Normal service will be resumed as soon as possible.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Watch Your Step

I was typing at my computer when the volunteer on duty that day appeared in the office doorway.

"Doris," she said, "a visitor has just fallen down the stairs in the Gatehouse! I don't think she's hurt but you ought to come and have a word."

"Of course, I'll just grab my accident report form and a pen."

The Gatehouse is fabulously old and has a slight lean to it. The stairs are very steep, narrow and worn. You only have to look at the stairs to see they are not suitable for carelessly running up or down, yet, just to be on the safe side, we have a large sign at the foot of the stairs which reads "Please Take Great Care on the Stairs." Still, wherever you have steps and thousands of people, statistically, sooner or later, someone will miss their footing.

I followed my volunteer out into the house. She looked around her, perplexed. "Where's this visitor then?" I asked.

"Well, she was here a moment ago. Maybe she's gone to look round the other rooms." My volunteer went off to see if she could spot her, while I went the other way, into the Hall.

From the Hall you can go up to the Minstrel's Gallery and explore the rooms on the first floor. The staircase is old, made of oak, and we do warn our visitors to take care upon them, as they are somewhat steep and uneven.

As I stood by the staircase, looking around for my volunteer to see if she had found our missing accident prone visitor, I heard a cry, a thud and turned round in time to see a woman bumping down the last few stairs on her back.

"Not again!" she exclaimed as she slid to a stop.

"Um....are you by any chance the lady who fell down the stairs in the Gatehouse?" I asked.

She was.

I completed the necessary paperwork and mused on the odds of falling down both sets of stairs in the space of about ten minutes. It reminded me of the boy who was sick on the bug hunt and then fell in the moat, last year.

Some people really do know how to get the most from a day out.

Monday, April 28, 2008

Building Bridges

I'm not saying it's rickety and unsafe to cross, but the dog did opt to fling himself across the stream and take his chances scrabbling up the bank, rather than walk the plank.

And they often know about these things.

Monday, April 21, 2008


I walk with Z every day. At the moment it is particularly beneficial as I am suffering from a protracted bout of sciatica and the best thing to do is keep active. The only problem is I am not overly good at bending at the moment, or climbing over fences to rescue stray lambs.

The lamb was running up and down the fence, bleating piteously, unable to get back into the field where its mother was unconcernedly munching grass.

"You climb over," I said to my daughter, who fortuitously happened to be with me, "and I'll stay here and hold the dog. Grab the lamb, and just chuck it over the fence."

Could there be a simpler plan?

Or a harder one to actualise?

Mind you, I did get a lot of amusement from watching my daughter chasing the lamb up and down the fenceline. She even caught it at one point but it wriggled so violently she had to let it go again. "There's no way I'm going to get it over the fence," she panted.

I took my phone from my pocket and dialled.

"Hello? Lovely Warden? Are you nearby?"

Lovely Warden is good at chasing sheep. He is speedy and strong. If there were a One Man and His Lovely Warden competition, he'd be a contender.

"No worries," he assured me, "I'll be there shortly."

And he was. He stepped into the arena and eyed his target. It was all over in a blur of wool and tanned legs.

Lovely Warden 1, Lost Lamb 0

I might let the cows out on my next walk, just to see how he does with larger prey.

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

Praise Be!

It's happened again!

Another miracle!

I've been feeling rather below par. I haven't slept properly in weeks, due to a bout of sciatica that has me waking up with my hip singing Ave Maria every night when I try to turn over in bed.

Driving is painful, so McColleague had kindly offered to drive me into town for the day. I'd limped around the shops for a few hours and then sat in leg aching misery in the passenger seat for the journey home, wishing all the while that I could be cured of this affliction.

As we approached the house we passed the "Tree Felling" signs that indicated wardens at work in the woods. Sure enough, there they were, clearing away the felled trees that were currently blocking the road.

"We won't be long," they said.

We decided to wait in the sunshine and watch them at work. I clambered, painfully, out of the car when - behold! The Face of Jaysus, in a tree stump!

It can surely only be a matter of time, medication and intense physiotherapy before my miracle cure is complete!

Monday, March 31, 2008


The damson orchards are entering their full bloom stage.

I'm making the most of it right now, as the weekend should see it's fair share of cannon and musket fire, so I predict a blizzard of petals and bare branches by Monday.

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Smells Like Festive Spirit

The electricians had been here for the best part of the day. So far they had got off to a bad start. After explaining the various problems that needed looking at I left them by the fusebox and returned to my office. I heard footsteps going upstairs. My daughter was in bed as she gets up at 5am to do her morning job and then gets her head down for a couple of hours when she returns. My husband had taken time off work and was enjoying a lie in. I dashed upstairs to warn them not to go into any of the bedrooms, but I was too late.

"Whaffuck?" said my husband as he awoke to find a strange man in the bedroom doorway.

I was cross. I hadn't said they could go upstairs in the first place, they hadn't said they were going off on a voyage of exploration, and you'd think they'd at least knock before heading into bedrooms with closed doors.

I returned, stompily, to my office. Where the computer screen went dark, the lights went out and the fire door slammed shut as the power was unexpectedly cut off.

I was cross. "You could give me a warning before you do that," I said. "Otherwise I lose whatever I was working on."

They apologised.

They moved on to the installation of a new immersion heater. The old one would trip the switches every time I tried to use it on its overnight setting. I could have hot water if I remembered to manually switch on the immersion heater, but the night time setting had to be deactivated.

The first sign all was not going smoothly was the request for a mop and bucket.

The next was the sound of pouring water some time later.

When the electrician came through to ask me to call a plumber I knew for sure.

The verdict was not good. The old immersion had been tricky to remove, so a bit of pressure was applied and the result was a broken hot water tank.

"I can't get hold of a new tank until Friday morning" said the plumber.

The thought of two long days without hot water loomed before me. It didn't help that the weather had just become very cold again and the thought of shivering in the bathroom while trying to have a strip wash in the basin was not an encouraging one.

"I know," said my husband. "We could bring the urn over - that would be a useful way to heat up lots of hot water."

"It's broken," I wailed.

"There is the other urn," said McColleague. "The one we do mulled wine in."

The urn we use for mulled wine can be used for no other hot beverage. No matter how thoroughly it is cleaned after use, it never loses the smell. Still, it does, inarguably, heat up a lot more water at once than a kettle. Handy for washing pots and pans and me.

So, for the next couple of days I washed in water still slightly scented with cinammon, cloves and red wine. It was great to get the new hot water tank fitted, but I do rather miss smelling like Christmas.

Monday, March 17, 2008

These Are Not Just Pants...

I did not attend the pre-season conference this year.

My Boss did, and was therefore the one to receive the certificate awarded to our team by the Director General for exceptional results in recruiting new members last season. He duly put it in a frame and presented it to me upon his return.

This was enough to make myself and my visitor reception assistants preen with pride, so imagine our delight when we heard that there was an actual prize element to the award too! "Our apologies for not having the prizes ready for the pre-season conference," the email read. "Your vouchers will be in the post tonight."

The morning's post did not disappoint. Inside the big envelope addressed to me were four smaller envelopes, one for me and one for each of my visitor reception team.

Thirty pounds worth of Marks and Spencer vouchers each! Unexpected riches!

I don't know what the rest of the team have bought with theirs but McColleague and I immediately took ourselves into town for a bra shopping marathon. (I should point out at this stage that McColleague didn't win any vouchers, being on the conservation side of things, not visitor services. She came along solely to keep me company in my bra buying frenzy.)

I managed to get the whole ensemble for my thirty quid. Bra, matching knickers, and seamed fishnet stockings. How tempted do you think I am to rip open my work issue anorak and shout "look what I bought with my award vouchers!" next time I meet the Director General?

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Wagons Roll!

For some years now a small, green, battery powered vehicle has stood in the courtyard.

It is yet another item my Boss acquired because it seemed like a good idea at the time. He bought it, painted it green and got the same amazing artist who created our nursery rhyme boards to paint a slightly deformed hedgehog on the doors.

When I first arrived here the Trusty Wagon, as it came to be known, still worked. It went about as fast as slow walking pace and myself and my daughter would have great fun driving it around outside and performing slow motion Professionals style dives and rolls out of the moving vehicle.

Our fun was cut short, sadly, as the Trusty Wagon simply stopped working one day and was left to stand, motionless, outside for the next few years. Children, of course, loved it and would climb inside and over it, pretending to drive as they turned the steering wheel back and forth.

It had its uses. It was a convenient weight for tying the marquees to when we had outdoor events. Still, it was beginning to look tatty, bits were starting to fall off it and McColleague and I were, frankly, sick of the sight of it.

At long last, this week, we finally persuaded the Boss that it was never going to be fixed and was an eyesore. He sent Lovely Warden to remove it and take it to the warden's yard.

The plan, according to Lovely Warden, was to simply tie it to the Gator, which McColleague and I would drive, towing the Trusty Wagon, which he would steer.

McColleague and I watched as Lovely Warden attached the rope, and put the vehicles into position.

"Have we done a risk assessment for this?" asked McColleague.

"Yes," I replied. "It's a bit risky, but probably ok."

"I'm not sure about how safe it'll be when we do the hairpin bend."

Lovely Warden was unconcerned. "It'll be fine," he said.

So we set off, McColleague driving the Gator, Lovely Warden steering the Trust Wagon, and me making sure we hadn't lost him and taking photographs. There was a slightly hairy moment by the moat, where the Wagon lost it a bit on the gravel, but Lovely Warden seemed unfazed, smiling and continuing to eat his lunch.

Of course, once we had dropped off the Wagon at the warden's yard, we were left with a two-seater Gator and three people to transport back to the house.

"You'll have to sit in the back," McColleague informed Lovely Warden.

"I'd better get my deckchair then," he said.

"He is joking isn't he?"

He wasn't. He emerged from the warden's shed with a red folding camping chair and proceeded to clear a space for it in the back. "See how I am ensuring it is on a level surface," he explained. "Safety is my primary concern."

Of course safety is our primary concern. So at no point would McColleague and I agree to drive Lovely Warden around the estate as "King for a Day" on a deckchair, we would certainly not go off road and go through the woods, and Lovely Warden would most definitely not therefore claim that he was going to need to have the deckchair surgically removed once we got back to the house. There would certainly be no opportunities for McColleague to shout "Is he ok?" above the engine noise, while I replied "Well, he's still there, if that qualifies as ok." And anyone who says otherwise is lying.

Monday, March 03, 2008


Changing behaviour is a challenge, to say the least. Changing things, as opposed to behaviour, is easy in comparison. We now open an hour earlier, for example, and the long awaited volunteer room is complete and in use.

At the pre-season volunteer and staff meeting I talked at length about the new room. I took the volunteers to look at it. I gave them all a sheet of Frequently Asked Questions relating to the changes for this season. When my volunteers arrived on the first open day of the season this weekend I reiterated the salient points.

These boiled down to:
  • Do not bring drinks into the house. Apart from the fact it looks unprofessional to be swigging cups of tea while on duty, last year I found someone had left a hot cup on the chest in the Screens Passage (despite the provision of a desk with coasters on it, for just this purpose) resulting in white marks we then had to remove.
  • Do wash your own cup after use and put it back.
So, naturally, when I walked through the house an hour later to see how everyone was doing, I was somewhat disappointed to spot a cup of tea balanced on the brass alms dish in the Screens Passage and another being held by the volunteer by the desk.

My frustration (masked by a big smile and a tactful "we mustn't put cups on the precious things" as I whisked the offending utensil away) was matched only by the arrival of the two shop volunteers at the end of the day, who had thoughtfully brought me the days takings along with their dirty cups.

What are my chances of getting them to accept the new room as the place to drink tea and do their own washing up before the end of the year?

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Pre-Season Mania

Things are in the manic phase as we approach the last few days before re-opening the house for the 2008 season.

While most things are on schedule and going to plan, I do have a slight concern, with just over a week until opening, at not having found anyone to run the tea room by this stage.

Who's good at making scones?

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Wellies, you say?

From the letter I sent in November:

"After the meeting there will be an opportunity to join Lovely Warden for a guided walk along the new nature trail. Please be aware that the terrain will be muddy and uneven so suitable footwear is essential!"

From the Christmas get together in December:

"And don't forget, after our pre-season meeting there'll be a chance to see the new nature trail. It's a bit rough and ready at the moment, so do bring your wellies."

On the morning of the pre-season meeting:

"The trail is particularly muddy at the moment, so if you are joining us this afternoon wellies are a must."

After lunch:

"Right, those of you coming on the walk, please gather in the courtyard. Can I just re-emphasise, the walk is exceptionally boggy in parts, so if you haven't brought wellies or walking boots I wouldn't attempt it."

On the walk:

"Ok, this is where it starts to get really muddy and churned up. I can't stress enough just how muddy it gets. Those of you in ordinary shoes, bail out now!"

"Is it muddy then?"

"Yes, very."

"Will it come over the tops of my shoes?"

"Most likely."

"I'll risk it." And with that, she rolled up her trouser legs and strode on.

I have to say, I am proud of my volunteers. I had wellies on, and I carried a stout stick to assist me through the worst of the slippery, boggy parts of the track. Yet I had a couple of older ladies with me who managed to traverse the entire swamp in their sensible shoes and whilst carrying handbags. It had to be seen to be believed. This is the kind of can-do attitude that makes Britain great.

Our volunteers are a formidable crew. I do love them.

Wednesday, February 06, 2008

And Smile!

I had sent out numerous press releases, not expecting there to be much, if anything, in the way of a response.

Volunteer recruitment days are never terribly newsworthy. Each year I have an open day or a coffee morning where I try to lure people in so I can persuade them to volunteer with us. Each year I sit there, surrounded by plates of biscuits and volunteering brochures and no one turns up. If I'm exceptionally lucky a rambler may stray past, and I'll drag them in and give them a leaflet, but that's about it really.

McColleague was setting up the room, putting out an optimistically large number of cups and saucers, while I finished up in the office. The phone rang. It was the local press photographer!

"Can I come out and get some shots of your volunteer coffee morning?" he asked.

"Yes. Yes!" I exclaimed. "Though, I must warn you, I may not actually have any volunteers to photograph."

He was undeterred by this. "I'll be there at 11," he said.

I hurried over to the volunteer room and McColleague. "The photographer from the local paper is coming!" I explained.

"What will he make you hold aloft this time?" she wondered.

"A volunteer?"

The coffee morning offically began at 10am. By 11 am McColleague and I were still the only people in the room. The photographer arrived.

"Hello," I smiled. "I'm afraid we're having a bit of a lull at the moment."

"No problem," he said. "Let's just have a picture of you, Doris, in front of the house."

And so another photo for my collection is taken. Me, in front of the house, holding aloft a Volunteer Welcome Pack, the sun in my eyes, my hair blowing over my face. I await the torrent of calls to flood in as people all over the county flock to volunteer for me.

I really look like I need help.

Monday, January 28, 2008

Top Table

As regular readers may be aware, I have long had logistical problems with the volunteers sharing my office for their lunch and tea breaks. This year sees a major milestone achieved as the long-awaited New Volunteer Room is finally completed. Yea, and there was much rejoicing.

So, the room is complete. The finishing touches are not. McColleague and I are poised with all the little extras that make a volunteer/staff room so appealing. We have all the usual tea making paraphernalia along with a noticeboard, a clock, a comfy chair, some nice pictures for the wall and so on. The one thing we didn't have was a table. Not to worry though. Lovely Warden was making one."Now before I show it to you," said Lovely Warden, about to open the door of the warden's shed to display his handiwork, "the correct response is 'that's a beautiful table'".

McColleague and I nodded dutifully as he looked at us, then exchanged meaningful glances as he turned away.

As expected it was very large and made of wood.

"That's never going to get through the door!" exclaimed McColleague.

"It's very big," I said. "Oh, and beautiful, " I added, hastily.

"It'll be fine," said Lovely Warden. "I'll bring it down tomorrow, on the trailer. I can't fit it in my van."

As predicted, it was too big to fit through the door. The top of the table had to be removed and reassembled once inside.

It takes up quite a lot of the room. It is so big that McColleague was able to wax and buff it usuing the electric floor polisher we use in the house. Lovely Warden is unrepentent. He says it is such a lovely table he wants it to be the focal point of the room. And it is.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Mighty Mallet

This is Lovely Warden's latest creation. McColleague and I discovered it in the bird hide. It is a massive, hand crafted wooden mallet. I do not know why Lovely Warden has made it and am reluctant to ask (it takes all the fun out of guessing, for a start).

Is it for giant games of croquet? Dealing with the squirrels who steal the nuts meant for the birds? What uses can there be for a giant wooden mallet in a bird hide?

Thursday, January 17, 2008


Until very recently the house was supplied with spring water. There is a very efficient filter system in place and I was more than happy to drink delicious non-chlorinated spring water that would cost a bomb if it was bottled and put in the shops. Granted, the system wasn't perfect, as the spring water also supplied the cattle troughs, and if any of the cattle troughs got kicked over by a frisky cow, our water supply would slow to a trickle and then stop.

Whenever the subject of mains water was raised I was informed that we couldn't just change over because of the difference in pressure. Our spring water system just wouldn't cope with mains water. All the ballcocks and pipes would need replacing first. It made sense to me.

So imagine my surprise when my water supply was changed from spring to mains a month or two ago.

"Don't we need to change the pipes first?" I asked, in some concern.

"It'll be all right," said my Boss.

"Right," I said.

So imagine my surprise when, on my way to bed at midnight, I discovered a river of water running through the house.

The water pipe outside my kitchen window had burst and was fountaining gallons of water up through the drain cover and subsequently into my kitchen. I phoned my Boss who duly arrived with his brother-in-law, Colin, our resident plumber and builder. We all stood outside, in our wellies, torchlight reflecting off the bubbling water.

"Nothing we can do tonight," said Colin. "I'll just turn off the water supply for now and be back first thing in the morning".

When you've spent the night having to fetch buckets of water from the courtyard to flush the loo, it is a wonderful thing to see a yellow digger outside the kitchen window. It gives you hope.

After much excavation the offending broken piece of pipework was found and replaced.

"I reckon it was the change in water pressure that did it," mused Colin.

"You reckon?"

"Oh yes. It'll be all right now."

Imagine my surprise a few days later when I discovered the overflow from the cold water tank in the roof space pouring out water just outside my back door. To exit the house you had to go through a small waterfall. Colin came to investigate.

"It's the ballcock. It's not designed for this kind of mains pressure. I'll fit a new one."

"Will it be ok now?"

"Oh yes."

I am already imagining my next surprise.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

First Aid Made Me Sick

"Right, you all remember Resusci Annie, don't you?"

We did. We were all there for our First Aid Re-Qualification. Once you have completed the original five day training course you are then qualified for three years. Once those three years have passed you need to attend a further 2 day course to maintain your qualification. We had all locked lips with Resusci Annie many times before.

"Well, this isn't Resusci Annie, this is Fred," continued our instructor, unzipping the case before him.

"Blimey," I muttered. "Fred's a bit scary, isn't he?"

Our instructor went on to tell us that while Annie is modelled on a petite woman, Fred reflects a more modern trend and is based on a 19 stone man. He was therefore a lot more demanding on the arm muscles when performing CPR.

My knees felt the strain too. Two days of crawling around on industrial nylon carpet, applying bandages and the kiss of life meant I was sporting a couple of impressive carpet burns, despite the jeans I wore.

I passed the exam at the end of day two and went away with a renewed qualification and the beginnings of the flu bug that knocked me out over Christmas. I am convinced someone breathed their germs into the chest cavity of Fred or Annie and I subsequently breathed them in. The medicated wipes used to clean the doll between each use only sterilise the surface. I am convinced Fred gave me flu.

Thursday, January 03, 2008

House of Wool

My nearest town is small and full of interesting characters. I very much like it. One of the characters is a lovely lady called Olive who has a wool shop. She is an accomplished mistress of the knitting needles. Jumpers and cardigans, scarves and gloves, socks and hats - these no longer present any sort of challenge for her. For Olive is famous locally for her skills in making woolly worlds, knitted alternative realities. She knits people. And animals. Even vegetables.

Her creations can be found displayed in vacant shop windows along the High Street. On my first visit to the town, when I originally moved here, I was perplexed as to why there were life-sized knitted figures in random shop windows. Since then I have come to understand that this is a local tradition and have grown to eagerly anticipate her next flurry of knitted activity. McColleague and I always text each other with updates on the knitted figures situation whenever one of us spots a new display.

So it was that I found myself outside her wool shop in the days before Christmas, gazing in awe at the knitted Widow Twanky in her shop window, and boggling at the knitted paper chains draped overhead. Next door stood an empty shop, but instead of the soaped windows and a few dead flies you might expect to see in a normal High Street, this housed an impressively random selection of Olive's finest knitted figures. You see, that's one of the things I enjoy the most - the fact that there is no theme, no common element to these displays that I can discern. To my delight I could see a Land Army Girl, an Arab and a person in a white coat - a vet? A doctor? Who knows? Oh, and a donkey. And a collection of knitted mice, carrots and even a woolly turnip, scattered across the floor. I fumbled in my bag for my mobile. I needed to send visual evidence to McColleague at once.It was as I took the picture on my cameraphone that I heard a voice behind me.

"Hello! Photographing my knitted people, are you?"

Eek! It was Olive! I was caught.

"Yes," I replied. "I always take a picture to show my friends. We love your knitting."

"Are you local?"

Olive asks me this every time she meets me. I explained again that, yes, I only live up the road at the manor house.

"Would you like to see more of my knitted figures?"

"Um....well I'm a bit pushed for time."

"I've got loads more in the back of my shop, come and look."

It was hard to refuse. The shop was right there and I had been caught showing an interest. Olive ushered me through, into the dark recesses beyond the counter. The bell above the door jangled as someone else came into the shop. "I'll leave you to it," she said.

And so I found myself alone in a room surrounded by life-sized knitted figures. Apart from what I think was a knitted mayor. He was half the size of all the others. I don't know why.I wondered how long was the politely correct amount of time to spend on my own among the knitted people. My cameraphone pictures weren't doing them justice, my hands were far too shaky with the excitement of it all.I texted McColleague. "I am in the back of Olive's wool shop! If I appear in knitted form in a shop window in a few days time you will know I fell to the House of Wool." And I sent an accompanying picture to illustrate my predicament.After a while I decided to venture back out again. Olive was serving some customers in the front of the shop so I was able to call out a cheery "Well, thanks for that, I've some lovely pics now to show everyone!" as I made for the door without slowing or making eye contact.

I must return the favour when the house re-opens and invite Olive along to see our Nursery Rhyme Trail. I've a feeling she'd really like it.